Heart Disease: Changing the Narrative

Healthy older couple laughing together outside during the fall season

Cardiovascular (heart) disease is one of the most widespread and complicated health challenges in the United States and around the world. In the United States, more than 126 million people had some form of heart disease between 2015 and 2018. And, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease accounted for more than 860,000 (about one in three) deaths in the United States in 2017.

This isn't just a U.S. health crisis. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing 17.9 million people every year — a number that's expected to grow past 23.6 million by 2030. About 80 percent of these deaths are from heart attack and stroke.

Despite these enormous challenges, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic. And in the United States, the death rate from cardiovascular disease decreased by 18.6 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to an American Heart Association report published in January 2019. This is due, in part, to the fact that many risk factors for heart disease can be modified, including lack of physical activity, poor diet, and tobacco use.

In our last blog, we explained that heart-healthy living involves understanding your risks. It also requires us to make choices and take steps to reduce our chances of getting heart disease. By taking preventive measures and changing bad lifestyle habits, we can lower our risk of developing heart disease and also improve our overall health and well-being. Here is a recap of the five most common and effective steps we can take on our own to decrease our risk of heart disease:

  • Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly.
  • Choose heart-healthy foods.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start.
  • Get enough good-quality sleep.

As with many diseases, early detection can make treatment easier and more effective. For heart disease, a Cardiac Calcium Screening can help predict heart disease risk at the earliest stages, before symptoms occur, for up to 10 years after the scan. This is significant, because 85% of sudden, fatal heart attacks may be prevented if risk factors are identified and treated early enough.

Atherosclerosis, also referred to as plaque build-up, can cause hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries over time, decreasing blood flow to the heart - which is directly related to the risk for heart attack. A Cardiac Calcium Screening uses high-resolution, rapid CT to take multiple angle x-rays to create a 2-dimensional image of the beating heart. Radiologists analyze the CT to determines the amount of atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up, is present in the coronary arteries. The entire process takes about 15 minutes and is painless. You don't need a referral to get screened, but your physician will receive your report typically within a few days and can devise a comprehensive plan to minimize risk and maximize heart health.

As American Heart Month draws to a close, make it a point to talk to your doctor about your heart health and potential risk factors for heart disease. Making a few basic lifestyle changes and getting a screening can help set the stage for a happy, healthy future.

Cardiac Calcium Screening is offered at the Summit Diagnostic Imaging Center at Deane Hill, 7211 Wellington Drive (lower level) in Knoxville. Schedule your screening today by calling 865-588-8005.